Federal tech program offers ‘buddy system’ with India and China

The federal government announced Thursday that it is providing $12.3 million over four years to promote collaborative research in technology and science with China and India.

Through the program, Canadian organizations – businesses, universities and colleges, and private R&D organizations – should be able to take advantage of networking opportunities and project funding with companies in these countries.

The program will be delivered by newly-formed not-for-profit organization, International Science and Technology Partnerships Canada Inc. (ISTP Canada), whose mandate is to bolster the country’s science and technology, business to business, and ultimately overall economic, trade and political relations. 

Through ISTP Canada, the federal government will support as much as 50 per cent of the Canadian component of a joint research project. An emphasis will be placed on research projects with potential for commercial application.

According to Henri Rothschild, ISTP Canada’s president and CEO, the program is significant for all technology-based industries because it won’t just provide financial support for such projects, it will help Canadian companies identify global partners.

“We’re a unique organization in a sense that we have a buddy system – a parallel structure – in India and China, [that is] is connected with the industry and the research community as well.”

The partnership with China and India, through ISTPCanada, is the newest “vehicle” of the International Science and Technology Partnerships Program (ISTPP), a federal government program formed in 2005, to help promote research with foreign technologists and scientists.

Specifically, funding for partnerships with China and India is part of a $20-million program spanning four years. Similar programs featuring Israel and Brazil will eventually be manned by ISTPCanada, said ISTPCanada’s chairman, Stuart McCormack.

He said the China and India partnerships should help Canadian companies thrust their intellectual capital into the global marketplace, more so than they would otherwise have been able. “It’s a great opportunity for Canadians to maximize the bang they get for their buck in terms of doing researching and developing activities.”

Rothschild can’t speak to projects in the pipeline just yet, as ISTPCanada won’t issue proposal guidelines for projects until early summer. However, he said China has a keen interest in developing technology in relation to the environment and health care sectors, specifically in digital medicine and convergent health technologies. In addition to those areas, India is interested in biofuel research.

Spending more time collaborating and understanding the Chinese and Indian markets is a good move because these countries represent the “long-term future of markets worldwide,” according to Vito Mabrucco, managing director for Toronto, Ontario-based IDC Canada.

“If you look at North America and where we are in the marketplace, our opportunity to continue to drive and improve our standard of living, wealth and our benefits, is to find markets where we can expand and enter with our innovations, products, and services,” said Mabrucco.

A common misconception for Canadian startups, he said, is to perceive success as how well they can conquer the U.S. and European markets, when there may be less competition and more openness to Canadian initiatives around emerging technologies in India and China.

Canada has a lot to offer a joint research project in digital and remote healthcare, said Mabrucco. “You combine our knowledge of healthcare with our knowledge of communications and that might represent a great opportunity in China and India to deliver healthcare differently—doing it more remotely,” he said.

For instance, he said there are companies like Nortel that are investing significantly in driving bandwidth (a requirement for remote healthcare), and medical science centres like that of McMaster University, which is already performing telemedicine.

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